Catching Up on Things I’ve Missed

I just read a wonderful Bible story that I had never read before. It is an Old Testament story that is referenced twenty-eight times in the New Testament, from Matthew all the way through to the Revelation. It is a picture of the Father’s only Son who find a Bride – a Bride who becomes part of the Father’s household. It is about prayer, worship, healing and spiritual warfare. It is about so much more.

The story is found in the book of Tobit. It has been read by Christians throughout the ages. Most Christians considered it a part of Holy Scripture for 1500 years. At the time of the Reformation, certain influential Protestant leaders decided that the Old Testament books that had originally been written in Greek rather than Hebrew should be set to one side. Not thrown out of the Bible, but clumped together at the end of the Old Testament. Calvin and Luther did not consider then canonical, but Luther’s Great Bible of 1539 and the Geneva Bible of 1560 included them, as did the King James Version.  In fact, every Protestant Bible included them into the 19th century.

Why, then, have they fallen into disuse by Protestants? Even those whose did not consider them canonical considered them “profitable to read,” as Luther put it – profitable enough that they printed and bound them together with the rest of Scripture. (Luther also considered Hebrews, James, Jude and the Revelation to be New Testament deuterocanonicals – of less value than the rest – but did not exclude them from his translation in the end.)

They originally fell into disuse in the late 18th century, so that when there was a paper shortage in the United States in the early 19th century, they were not printed in many Bibles. It is much later that the idea that they were Roman Catholic books and therefore unworthy of Protestant consideration crept in. That being said, the Anglicans have continued to use them as worthy reading and some are included the Lectionary to be read in services. But for many Protestants, there has been an assumption that the 66 books now contained in most Bibles is the way it has always been.

Despite my best intentions, I have not read all of these deuterocanonical Old Testament books. (“Deuterocanonical” means second canon, a term which could equally be applied to New Testament books that had a harder time of getting into the canon in the first place and were considered doubtful even by some Reformers, as noted above.) Despite their use in the New Testament by Jesus and the Apostles, I’ve not given them due attention.

As a result, for 47 years I missed out on the wonderful story of Tobit and Anna, Tobias and Sarah, Raguel and Edna, and Raphael. I think I may go read it again.

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The Impossible DREAM

It appears there will be a token vote, perhaps as soon as tomorrow in the House of Representatives, on the frequently defeated Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act before the end of the lame duck session of Congress. I don’t know if the House has the votes, but the Senate won’t get past a cloture vote, so it’s a moot point.

Nonetheless, it’s litmus test time again.  Time to pull out all the talking points and treat them with the sacredness of Holy Scripture. It’s “amnesty by the back door,” “amnesty by the front door,” “amnesty by climbing in through the window,” etc. I just wish Holy Scripture was treated with the same sacredness.

The DREAM Act would allow children who were brought to the United States by undocumented parents to walk a narrow path to conditional permanent residency and eventually to full permanent resident status. Applying criteria we would never think of applying to those who providentially arrived on the planet north of the Rio Grande – especially if their parents were also so blessed in their own arrival – a few people will received a few opportunties they wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the hitch is that the oppotunities will completely transform their lives. If there’s one thing we don’t like, it is people having their lives transformed when they don’t deserve it.

Other than the possibility of living out of the shadows and fringes of society, one of the aspects that irks opponents is the possibility that those for whom the DREAM Act is intended will be considered eligible for in-state college tuition. More than one commentator has asked why these people should get the benefit of resident fees when American citizen students from other states don’t. It could be because they are from out of state and aren’t  in the state for other the educational purposes. That’s the usual criteria. But this is a matter that will be decided by the individual states, or even the individual institutions or university systems, depending on how individual states have chosen to operate that decision making process.

One of the more outrageous comments I heard in opposition to the DREAM Act was that it was like letting the children of bank robbers benefit from the proceeds of their parents’ crime. However, this comment highlights a serious misconception that a lot of people seem to have. Legal residency isn’t a property right. Even citizenship is not a property right. It is not a possession. It is a legal status. There isn’t a big citizenship pie which can only be cut into so many pieces, so that only so many people can have some. If that were the case, we would need to consider imposing Chinese-style limits on the number children allowed in each family.

Undocumented aliens haven’t stolen anything by being undocumented. They haven’t stolen safety from drug lords and corrupt government officials. They haven’t stolen the possibility to work for food and shelter. They haven’t stolen the fear of detection that could lead them to being sent back to a place of danger and poverty. Were the DREAM Act to become law, they wouldn’t be stealing a chance at legal residency.

Status is an interesting thing. I was reading yesterday about the changes in the pecking order at Court due to the introduction of Kate Middleton into the British Royal Family. Particularly amongst the ladies, princesses mostly, there seems to be a great deal of concern as to who will now have to curtsey to whom and under what conditions, chiefly revolving around whose husband is in the room at the time. It is easy to look down our egalitarian noses at such nonsense.

But are we anything from outraged to at least a bit irritated that undocumented aliens, whether adults or children, would acquire a status, whether permanent residency or even citizenship, to which they are not entitled? Yet status is something about which the Bible reveals God is very interested. It also uses the analogy of robbery:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

So how do we filter our attitude toward undocumented residents through Philippians 2? Is it useful only in “spiritual matters” or how we treat each other in church? Is this one of those areas where our Christianity and our politics need not meet? Do we bifurcate our responsibilities as a Christian with our responsibilities as a member of the body politic? Are we willing to wash the feet of our undocumented brother and then ring up ICE to pick him up and deport him?

But say it’s nothing to do with Jesus. (Say it at your own peril, but say it nonetheless.) Let’s say it’s just economics. Won’t passage of the DREAM Act lead to all these barely-legal aliens flooding our state colleges and universities, taking away places from natural born (and even those despised anchor baby) citizens? And since they tend to be poorer than rightful Americans, won’t they then be stealing all the financial aid?

I suppose there is an argument to be made for keeping an uneducated social and legal underclass in America. After all, they aren’t going anywhere. Despite all the calls for rounding up every undocumented resident and shipping them to the nearest international bridge and forcing them to walk across at gunpoint, logistically it isn’t going to happen, regardless of which political party is making policy. Likewise, they are not going to voluntarily “go back” to a country most haven’t seen since early childhood. And there are all those necessary jobs that just wouldn’t exist within the constraints of exisiting labor laws, so if we let all these people become legal, who will do the work beneath the dignity of most citizens?

One of the arguments made against the DREAM Act by people like William Gheen of the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC is that by allowing the narrow group of qualifying individuals (not that ALIPAC would ever characterize them in such a way) to obtain permanent resident status, they will then be able to bring more relatives into the US legally. But I thought that was what they wanted in the first place: legal immigrants. Thus they expose their agenda, which is really about keeping immigrants out altogether.

Here’s what Gheen said on FoxNews about the beneficiaries of the DREAM Act: “If these illegal aliens, millions of them, are turned into citizens, what it’s gonna do, it’s gonna displace and replace millions of innocent American college students; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, perhaps tens of millions, of American workers; it’s gonna displace and replace millions, eventually, as you said, tens of millions of American voters.”

The best estimates seem to indicate that there are about 65,000 undocumented students graduating from US high schools each year. So we’ve gone from millions to thousands. But graduating from high school isn’t enough. The DREAM Act requires them to also get at least an associate’s degree, complete two years toward a bachelor’s degree, or serve two years in the military during six years of conditional residency. They are ineligible to receive federal financial aid toward their education. They must also keep their nose clean. If they do all that, they are eligible for permanent residency – LPR status with what is commonly called a green card (though the card itself is not green). Permanent residency petitions normally take in excess of a year to process, so really they are looking at seven years of conditional reisidency. LPRs, who must also stay crime-free to maintain their status, become eligible for citizenship after five years. So yes, it is possible for several thousand college-educated or veteran children of illegal immigrants to become citizens after a twelve-year process.

So in reality, the number of students are a drop in the ocean of higher education in the US, where there are over 19 million enrolled. Yes, they will eventually join the job market competing for jobs, but it will be hard to “displace and replace” millions of workers with a few thousand immigrants.

How they are going “displace and replace” voters, I have no clue. As far as I’m aware, there is no competition for the eligibility to vote. A 30-year-old veteran of the US military who was born in Mexico showing up at a polling station will not force election officials to tell a Son of the American Revolution, “Sorry, but you are no longer allowed to vote, as we have to let this new citizen vote, since he got his citizenship under the DREAM Act.” What utter nonsense.

The last bit of nonsense that needs to be addressed is the objection raised by a number of opponents, namely, that we need comprehensive immigration reform rather than a piecemeal approach. If there was any real will in the Republican Party for any sort of immigration reform, this might have a shread of credibility. The only immigration reform desired by most non-Hispanic Republicans is to build the wall higher with enough guns pointed to Mexico to stop new arrivals combined with more aggressive efforts to flush out undocumented immigrants domiciled in the US. The DREAM Act will be rejected now and forever because it does not fit this agenda.

Yet, I can’t get Philippians 2 out of my mind.

Enough is Enough

So while the Catholics are baptising the children of unrepentant, flagrant fornicators, the Anglicans have a whole other thing going on. At least this is in the news.

The Anglican Communion has been split in two like the veil in front of the Holy of Holies. I can’t believe it has taken so long to happen. There have been ruptures and breakaway groups and flying bishops, both across diocesan lines in England and across intercontinental lines in America. Now we are talking about at least half of the Communion saying enough is enough.

They are finally having the testicular fortitude and intellectual honesty to start referring to a false gospel.

Robert Pigott, religion correspondent for the BBC, gets it. The rift is not about homosexuality.

In reality, the dispute centres on how strictly Anglicans should interpret the Bible, and whether, for example, it should be read as ruling out active homosexuality as a sin.

Homosexuality is simply the presenting issue – the human behaviour that exposes radically different approaches to the Bible, and helps to make this such a fundamental dispute.

It is not coincidental that the same bishops who are promoting the normalisation of gay “marriage” are also the ones who don’t believe in the Resurrection or the exclusive claims of the Gospel. After all, the Presiding Bishopette of the Episcopal Church doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation. She’s echoed by Bishop Marc Andrus of California, who told the BBC,

The only need is that which St Paul expressed, that each of us should be ready to give witness to the faith that is within us. St Paul saw no need to seek to convert, but simply to make clear the origins and the dimensions of one’s own faith. God leads each of us in the spiritual path that leads to communion with the Divine.

So Jesus, whoever he might be to you, is a way, a truth, and a life, but everyone comes to the Father (or Mother, or whatever God or Goddess is to you) using the path of their own choosing. The Bible does talk about taking a path of our own choosing.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.

The Bible isn’t Biblical

A link from the WordPress dashboard took me to one of the many post-Christian, de-conversion blogs. I didn’t realise that’s where I was heading when I clicked on the link, but I find it interesting to understand better the loss of faith. Most of the people I deal with daily are of the never-had-faith type.

I think we all go through the dark night of the soul. Different people deal with it in different ways. Unlike well-meaning commenters on these blogs, I have no interest in Bible proof-texting them back to faith. In fact, I find most of these well-meaning attempts using an approach that has been directly rejected by the de-converting or de-converted.

I certainly haven’t seen lots of these blogs, so I don’t presume that the crisis of faith comes to each person in the same way. However, the ones I have seen seem to have a similar background. I have see ex-Catholics mostly describing their disaffection with things that’s aren’t actually Catholic dogma. However, most of the deconversion seems to be from Evangelicalism. The former evangelicals are sometimes pastors or other sorts of leaders. They are well-versed in the Scriptures.

Herein seems to lie the problem. They find internal inconsistencies – or have long been aware of what appear to be internal inconsistencies – in the Scriptures and finally admit that in their Protestant paradigm if the Bible fails everything fails. This exposes a weakness, not in Christianity, but in that Protestant paradigm.

The further a group eschews the Holy Tradition the more it has to adopt a sola scriptura approach. This means that the Word of God is exactly what the text says and the key to the Truth is in finding exactly what the text says. God specifically spoke certain words in Hebrew or Greek and we have to find out exactly which words He used.

Then He put them all together in One Big Book. Now it’s like a giant jigsaw and the work of the biblical scholar is to fit all of the pieces together so that there is a single internal consistency. That’s not to say that there is any consistency in the scholars – otherwise we wouldn’t have the vast discrepancies in commentaries, surveys, handbooks, and other reference materials that span the Protestant theological gamut.

The only problem is the the One Big Book view of the Bible isn’t biblical. The closest thing to a collective reference is Jesus’ reference to the Law and the Prophets. This does not refer to the whole Old Testament, as He makes no reference to the Writings (Ketuvim). References in different biblical sources to “the Word of God” do not somehow look ahead to 66 writings eventually recognised as canonical by Protestants, the 74 recognised by Rome, or even the 77 recognised by Orthodoxy.

Long before I was Orthodox, I realised that using verses like Proverbs 30:5-6 or Revelation 22:18-19 to refer to the unified Bible was completely non-contextual. That would somehow suppose that the Church did not have the full Truth before an agreement was reached over time about even the New Testament canon.

This does not mean that the Bible isn’t inspired by God. The Church, being led by the Holy Spirit, recognised those writings which have been specially inspired by the Holy Spirit. But this is why I don’t have a problem with Protestant Bibles. They may lack 11 writings used by Jesus and the early Church, but what they have is inspired.

As a quick aside. . . It’s not that the Protestant Bible has lacked these writings for a long time. Stories vary slightly as to when they were commonly removed – from just after the American Revolution to the 1820’s – but it seems to be universally agreed that the reason was to save printing costs. Because Protestants refer to them as the Apocrypha, put them in a separate group and sadly, as they were not read often, no one seemed to miss them. It is only post-Revolutionary homegrown American denominations and their progeny that completely rejected them.

But back to my point. . . Once you remove the One Big Book view, it doesn’t matter that there are different ways of saying things, or even times when the individual books say different things. Each book is a way of God telling us things, but God is bigger than all the writings.

The Spectre of Radical Christian Fundamentalists In Britain

When it comes to the mainstream media in the UK, The Daily Telegraph is about as conservative as it gets. So when it comes to running an article on conservative evangelical Christians, what sort of thing can we expect from the Telegraph? I dare say it would shock American readers.

To help promote long-time Telegraph photojournalist David Modell’s contribution to the Channel 4 TV programme Dispatches, they’ve run a story about his discovery of Christian fundamentalists. You want to scare Brits? Start an article with something like:

“They think society should be built on their beliefs. They claim non-believers are damned.”

Oooooh…. It’s like something out of horror film. Christians who believe they should have an active faith-based input into politics and they think you have to be a Christian to go to heaven. But it’s worse:

“But these radical Christian groups are not in America – they are here and are aiming to change the laws of our land. . .”

So not only are they politically active “born-again types” – they’re in Britain! And I’ve reduced the font size of these quotes from the original, just so you don’t get too frightened. But it gets worse. They even have Christian schools based on this sort of curriculum. What sort of horrible indoctrination is taking place? Well, here’s what David Modell found when he visited one such school:

One little girl has to do a science test. A classroom assistant kneels next to her, takes her hand and says: “We pray, Father, that you’ll help her check all her spellings. In Jesus’s name, Amen.”

The test is multiple choice. Question five is: “God made the world in [BLANK] days.” The options are “five, six or seven”. The six-year-old carefully writes “six”. The right answer.

This scene would be surprising enough if the school were in America’s Bible Belt, but the voices around me are English, and we’re in Bristol.

Can you believe it? Prayer for help with spelling? What is the difference between this and children being trained as suicide bombers by Islamists? David Modell doesn’t think there is any. Besides, you start praying about spelling tests and who knows what you’ll be praying for next? For everyone to play safely and not get hurt during recess? For God to heal people and makes them better? They’ll start believing that God actually answers prayers, and then where will they be? And remember, the worst thing of all is that they are English.

American readers – at least my regular American readers and most non-liberal Christians in the US – will probably still wonder if I am making this up. I wish I was. The school in Bristol using Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum is a frightful thing to secularist, modernist Britain. After all, they, and schools using similar curriculum like the Alpha Omega based school from which I graduated those many years ago, are very mainstream in America. But then again, in America, the idea that Jesus saves is not radical, revolutionary, or dangerous.

David Modell is most worried because these people (remember, not stupid Americans, but actual British people) think the Bible is (shhh….) true. You know, literally true. “Not all evangelical worshippers hold such hard-line beliefs, but the fundamentalists will almost certainly describe themselves as evangelical.”

What’s worse (as if it could get any worse) not only are they teaching their children this stuff, they are getting involved in politics. Modell looks at Christian Action Research and Education (Care) – an organisation featured in the Independent, about which I commented at the end of March. What’s so scary about them?

The organisation’s published doctrinal basis is distinctly fundamentalist and among other things talks of “the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture and its consequent entire trustworthiness and supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct”. In other words, the Bible is the literal truth.

The Bible is trustworthy? Could British people actually believe such a thing? And these people are lobbying Parliament?

Where does David Modell think this is leading? He attends a seminar in Islamic fundamentalism. “But another thing strikes me while listening to [the] depiction of Islam as a dangerous fundamentalist belief: he could be describing the beliefs of the Christian fundamentalists I’ve met.” Yes, Britain will soon be a Taliban-style repressive theocracy. Like America, apparently.

The Heresy of Modern Marriage

As part of the RE curriculum, I teach about Christian views of marriage and family. Because the textbook – and the course, for that matter – is rooted in liberalism. It’s not called that, of course. It’s called modernity.

To balance out – or attempt to bump off – traditional views of marriage roles, they chuck the entire corpus of the New Testament aside in favour a non-contextual use of Galatians 3:28. Of course it is not within the purview of the syllabus to query how St Paul can intend to throw away everything he has said about the family with the use of one sentence in one of his letters in which he is not even discussing the subject.

But at the end of the day, that the best shot the “modern” view of the family has – a family with no head and no authority structure, no priorities and no defined roles. But even then, the theological ramifications are emmense. Modernist usually don’t have a lot of time for ramifications. Anything that stands in the way of fleeting selfish happiness is quickly pushed aside.

The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church. The former is a lesser reality which shadows the greater reality. After all, the marriage of husband and wife is temporary, bound only by this mortal realm. The headship of Christ over the Church is eternal, transcending this realm. To deny the shadow is to deny the greater reality. It is to reject the headship of Christ. It is to reject the Church.

Just as a priest in the church is an icon of Christ, so is the headship of the husband in the marriage. Honour paid to the icon is honour paid to the reality behind the icon. To desecrate the icon is to desecrate Christ.

That’s why the husband’s headship isn’t dependent upon whether he is good enough or worthy enough.  The sacrament of the Eucharist is not valid based upon the worthiness of the priest who prays the epiclesis. Neither is the sacrament of marriage valid based upon the worthiness of the husband as icon of Christ.

In the Orthodox Church we view marriage as salvific. Heresies don’t save. To have a heretical view of marriage is to challenge salvation itself. The Orthodox Church sees marriage as martyrdom. Modernist don’t have a lot of time for martyrdom.

Someone recently told me that I would be much happier if I would stop living in the past and embrace modernity. To embrace so-called modernity is to embrace heresy, to embrace death. It is to reject Christ.

The BBC Version of the Bible

They made up their own version of the Passion, so now the BBC has decided they will re-write the Bible.

Well, not the whole Bible. They are going to dramatise what they consider to be the most important stories. According to reports in the Daily Mail, these will include Cain and Abel, Noah, Joseph’s coat of many colours, Samson and Delilah and David and Goliath. Other that those, I’m not sure what other stories the BBC considers important. It’s going to be a six-hour mini-series.

And if they can exonerate Pilate and Judas, how will they re-cast the Old Testament? It wasn’t Cain’s fault for killing Abel. It was his upbringing. And Delilah was an empowered woman – a proto-feminist. And Goliath was only upset because people made fun of his size. We need to understand the causes of bullying. And that whole war? The Philistines were only seeking a two-state solution, after all.

I only hope it isn’t a boring as the The Passion, so I can stand to watch how badly they’ve handled it.